Two reasons for customer service to embrace (and one to fear) the Open Data Initiative


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Despite living in a highly technical world, one of the greatest challenges companies face is collecting and maintaining customer data–demographics, products, usage, etc.–and then utilizing that data to craft experiences beneficial to customers. Granted, there are some exceptions out there, but generally speaking despite all the intel available on customers from in-store and online purchases as well as interactions with customer service, companies lack the ability or will to use this wealth of data to created personalized, low-friction experiences for customers. If most companies themselves aren’t doing this with the data they are collecting, this is most certainly not happening across companies, where that interaction history at one company can be used by another for greater insights.

This could all change thanks to a new effort revealed in an article titled “Why The New Open Data Initiative By Microsoft, Adobe And SAP Could Revolutionize Customer Experience” a few weeks ago. Not only were some titans of technology with competing products and services coming together in the Open Data Initiative (ODI) to address these problems, but they were also inviting other companies to participate and benefit. Described as enabling “a seamless flow of customer data–everything from behavioral and transactional to financial and operational data comes together with one data model, making it possible for the first time to have a comprehensive, real-time view of customers across all touchpoints, ” ODI proposes to radically change the dynamic for customers and business. It has the potential to completely change the customer experience, offering both great opportunities as well as concerns.

Complete customer information

The biggest boon to customers who have opted-in (assuming there is an opt-in) and the companies that participate in ODI will be that one location alone will always possess the customer’s data. Customers will have one place to maintain their information–contact information, billing details, etc.–across the multiple companies they interact with (and have adopted ODI), and companies will benefit from not requiring customers to keep this updated in their own systems.

There’s more to it than simply knowing a customer’s contact details, though. Combining information across companies offers the ability to have greater insights into customers product ownership and usage (again, assuming they opt-in for this), making new experiences possible. Take a customer’s use of technology, for example. Knowing that a customer has a particular type of computer and printer (purchased separately from different companies), incompatibilities between the two products can be readily identified (and more quickly resolved) should the customer encounter issues.

One-stop GDPR

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is a regulation in EU law regarding privacy and data protection for all European Union (EU) citizens. It is a complex regulation–not just the statutes within it, but the fact that it applies to EU citizens both living in the EU and abroad, making compliance challenging. And though it was deliberated for four years and companies had two years to prepare, still many were not ready in May 2018 as it went into effect nor are they compliant today.

GDPR grants customers a few key rights, of which ODI could potentially simplify both for the customer and participating companies:

  • Access to their data
  • Data erasure
  • Processing restrictions
  • Data portability (which is the core value proposition of ODI)
  • Rights related to automated decision making and profiling

The other key rights around objection to data use and rectification might be possible through ODI as well, but likely would be something taken up directly by customers with individual companies.

How ODI will take GDPR into account and how it might deliver it aren’t currently known. Depending on how it supports GDPR compliance for member companies, many of the challenges to companies still lacking GDPR compliance or concerned about maintaining compliance could be eliminated. In addition, it would provide a common framework for GDPR compliance even to non-EU citizens around the world.

Target for attack

It used to be hackers targeted banks and online retail businesses, seeking to steal personal and financial information. Criminals could use details themselves for fraudulent purchases, to open new lines of credit, for identity theft schemes, or sell the data to others with the same purposes in mind.

Times have changed. Now, hackers pursue any data at any source. One report states that there were 1,293 data breaches in 2017 across a multitude of companies and industries, putting more than 174 million people at risk (a whopping 45% increase over 2016). This trend has only continued in 2018. Just recently, Facebook reported a data breach affecting 30 million of its users. In that case, personal details were obtained, and for about half of those users, recent searches and locations were also accessed.

Now imagine having all customer information across many different companies being available from a single repository. This would be an overwhelming temptation for hackers. Similar to the Facebook hack, should criminals breach the system, they would have access to not only personal information and financial details but also behavioral data. A veritable treasure trove, ODI will require significant protection to ensure the safety of customer data.

Two steps forward

The Open Data Initiative offers an interesting future. It has the potential of creating the next generation in commerce and customer service. But at what cost?

We have only touched on a few of the opportunities and potential downfalls this new program could offer. Though it would seem to put more control into the hands of the customer, it will definitely require further discussion and review to gauge customers’ understanding and interest–after all, what businesses are most interested in is gaining access to personal and behavioral details across multiple interactions and companies, and customers will want to see the benefits and know their information is well-protected before they share.

Paul Selby
I am a product marketing consultant for Aventi Group. Aventi Group is the first product marketing agency solely dedicated to high-tech clients. We’re here to supplement your team and bring our expertise to bear on your top priorities, so you achieve high-quality results, fast.


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